Nearly one-fifth of Congress will be in Selma, Ala., this weekend with President Barack Obama and his family to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march – a watershed moment that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups say the commemoration of this moment in the civil rights movement should spark work in Congress to update the law after the Supreme Court weakened it in 2013. Some congressional supporters say the lawmakers’ pilgrimage could help build support. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will be one of 98 members of both parties from the House of Representatives and the Senate going to Selma. “It shows me there’s interest by Republicans to guarantee voting rights for African-Americans,” Butterfield said.
Some Republicans believed there was no longer a need for federal oversight of states’ voting changes. Butterfield said he hoped they’d learn about contemporary stories about voting restrictions during the weekend of events and then be willing to consider updating the law. Civil rights groups are demanding it.
Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a message to supporters on Thursday that “while we commemorate the anniversary of this great march, we must also remember that our rights are still not secured – Selma is now.” He cited new laws since the Supreme Court decision, such as state ID requirements, that he argued imperiled voting rights.
“Commemoration requires legislation,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of rights groups, said in a statement this week. “Selma isn’t just a photo op. It’s a solemn remembrance of the blood, sweat, tears and lives that went into securing voting rights for racial minorities in this country.”